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The MSCA Individual Fellowship – award holder perspective

In today’s blog, Eirini Theofanidou, Proposal Development Executive (EU & International) talks to a researcher and her supervisor about the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship. We hear about her motivation for applying, the benefits the fellowship has brought both researcher and supervisor, and the support they received from Edinburgh Research Office.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship (MSCA-IF) supports any researcher moving to the UK to work on cutting-edge research projects that will make an original and significant contribution to their research field, under the supervision of an academic. In order to prepare a successful proposal we recommend strong collaboration between the Fellow the Supervisor and the Host Institution. In order to ensure the greatest chance of success, we recommend that the Supervisor has an active role in the preparation of the proposal, assisting the Fellow through the process. They should work together in order to decide on the: research activities and objectives, the researcher’s training and career needs, (including training on transferable skills), implementation of the research including timetable, planning for publications and participation in conferences. We suggest regular meetings, either face-to-face, phone or video call.

Elisa Barbieri (Fellow) and Ian Chambers (School of Biological Sciences, Centre for Regenerative Medicine) work together on “October” : Control of cell identity in pluripotent and germline cells by OCT4 orchestration of chromatin binding and enhancer regulation”, awarded under the H2020-MSCA-IF-2018 call.

Elisa’s research focuses on gene expression and regulation. She is interested in investigating how the combination of transcription factors, regulatory elements and transcription-associated complexes promotes cell fate determination.

Ian Chambers is a Professor in Pluripotent Stem Cell Biology. His research group studies embryonic stem cells (ESCs). These cells are pluripotent, meaning they can change into all the cell types of our bodies (differentiation).  ESCs can also divide to produce cells identical to themselves, a process termed self-renewal.

OCTOBER is an interdisciplinary project encompassing stem cell biology, genomics, and gene regulation. Its aim is to provide new knowledge of the mechanisms of gene expression and transcription in the differentiation of primordial germ cells (PGCs) from pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs).

Elisa, which elements do you think were decisive in your successful application?

Elisa: I think two elements were decisive: the complementarity between what I was bringing to the lab and what the lab was offering and the support I got from both Ian and the EU and International funding experts in Edinburgh Research Office.

What advice do you have for other researchers considering applying?

Elisa: My advice to other young researchers is to look for support during the writing of the application, especially for the implementation and impact sections that might be overlooked because less familiar to the applicant – they are the parts of the fellowship that might make the difference between a good application and a successful one.

How did Edinburgh Research Office help you?

Elisa: I found the application for the MSCA-IF application extremely complex at the beginning since it was different from other fellowships I applied to, with sections I was not familiar with (e.g. career development, communication and outreach, allocation of tasks and resources). The support of Edinburgh Research Office was essential for the success of my fellowship. They provided me with both information about the University and what it offers, and with great support during the writing phase with suggestions and a different point of view to improve the application.

Ian, why did you decide to support Elisa’s application?

Ian: Elisa had a mix of skills that I was looking for at a time when my group was undergoing some dynamic change. She had experience working with large bioinformatic datasets combined with strong biochemistry. She also showed initiative in approaching me and proposing to apply to MC. She had that year published 2 joint 1st author papers (one in Cell Reports, one in Molecular Cell), which made her competitive for a MC fellowship.

What was your time commitment during the application process? Do you have any advice for other PIs who are considering hosting a Fellow?

Ian: It’s difficult to recall, but around 50% of my time over a period of 1 month. My advice to any PI considering putting someone forward for a MC fellowship would be that there is a large component of the application given over to impact and career development. The temptation (particularly for the applicant) is to focus on the science, but these sections, particularly career development are critical to get right.

What has the fellow brought to your team?

Ian: Elisa has brought fresh enthusiasm, which is always important, as well as bioinformatic and biochemical knowledge that complements the labs expertise and a willingness to work effectively both at the bench and at the computer. Specifically, she has brought new cutting edge techniques that we did not previously use.

Further information and support

The Withdrawal Agreement (WA), as agreed between the EU and the UK, means that the UK can continue to participate in EU programmes, including Horizon 2020, that are financed by the 2014- 2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) until their closure (i.e. for the lifetime of grants). Edinburgh Research Office continues to support applications for all calls under H2020.

Please get in touch with the EU & International team at Edinburgh Research Office  to find more about the support currently available.

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Eirini Theofanidou


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